Henry enrolls in pre-school at the age of three. It’ll be good for you to play with kids your own age, Mom says, and there’s no reason to disbelieve her. It is fun: learning the alphabet and how to play on teams and singing songs about cooperation and teamwork. He makes friends, and spends a lot of the time outside of those morning sessions playing with them.
Next year, he throws a temper tantrum when he realizes that all his friends are still going to pre-school in the morning and he’s stuck in afternoon class. Mom sends him to his room, and when he’s just about finished crying, comes to visit him with a cup of hot cocoa and some old advice.
It’s good for you to play with kids your own age. He’s four now. His friends are still three.
“My goodness, is that Henry? My how he’s grown!”
They always sound so surprised.
Mom always brings him to her office after school. Normally he does his homework, and then colors: today he has a question that needs answering.
“How do I stop growing up?”
Mom looks up at blinks at him, confused. “Why would you want to do that?”
“No one else grows up,” he points out.
Mom stares at him for a while. He almost thinks she’s forgotten he’s talking to her when she replies. “Everyone has to grow up. Don’t be ridiculous.”
For most of his life, the movies playing at the cinema are Tron, Return of the Jedi, Superman III, and Yor: the Hunter From the Future. During second grade, when everyone is still supposed to invite their whole class to their birthday parties whether they live everyone or not, he sees Jedi three times, Superman twice, and Tron once before his mother has a talk with the manager and the movies start changing.
When he’s eight, he starts losing his baby teeth. It freaks everyone in his class out a little, even Rocky Youngblood, who has been missing a front tooth for as long as Henry’s known him. Other than that he likes Rocky: he’s very adventurous.
Mom starts letting him walk himself to her office after school. Rocky comes with him part of the way.
“What do you think about growing up?” he asks Rocky one day.
“I don’t like it,” Rocky says, and Henry’s glad one of them is happy about the whole situation.
“Henry has such a marvelous imagination,” Mrs. Basset told his mother during their parent-teacher conference at the end of that school year.
“He should. He spends enough time in the library,” Mom replies.
Henry reads a lot of books from the science section, actually. He knows that there are 365 days in a year, except for every four years, when there is a leap year with 366. He knows that a lot happens in a year, to humans: they learn to walk, or talk. Their bones fuse together, they lose their baby teeth, and in just a few years, his voice will starts to change and hair will start to grow on his chin, along with other stuff the books have told him his father will talk to him about, which he thinks is a pretty big mistake on their part.
He also knows that in every yearbook the same class graduates, with the same hopes of college and plumbing and marriage. That every year the teachers are the same, hair never any greyer, faces never any more wrinkly.
He’s not sure imagination is the right word.
On the first day of fourth grade, he makes himself puke. Mom lets him stay home. It can’t work forever, and eventually she catches on and makes him go to school whether he vomits or not. Yes, even if he vomits in the car.
Rocky doesn’t walk with him anymore. He’s still in third grade. He’s still eight. Henry drags his feet on his way to Mom’s office, and sometimes takes a wrong turn or three on purpose.
This is how he runs into Katie again. They’d been three together. She is still three, and still pretending her hula hoop is a lasso.
“Hey Katie,” he calls from the sidewalk. “Katie, do you remember me?”
Katie stops playing, and stares at him.
“I’m Henry. We used to play superheroes, do you remember?”
Katie opens her mouth and screams. “Stranger danger! Stranger danger!”
Henry runs and doesn’t stop until he’s safe at home in his bed.
“Henry!” his mother yells when she comes home. “Henry Mills!”
“Yes, Mom?” he calls back.
Mom thunders up the stairs and throws open the door. “Stay right there. You are in a big trouble, young man.”
She leaves the room, and Henry can hear he dial the phone and talk. “Yes, hi. You were right Graham, he’s here. Thank you. Yes, I’ll be sure to tell him that.”
Henry doesn’t move. Mom returns.
“What were you thinking?” she snaps.
“There’s something wrong with me,” he tells her.
“What makes you say that?” she asks after a moment, sounding much less angry.
“I’m not like the other kids,” he says.
Mom sits down on the edge of the bed, and puts her hand on his back. “Are you being bullied? Because if you’re being bullied, I will make it stop.”
“No,” Henry says, because he might have already decided not to make friends with anyone this year, but he isn’t being picked on either. The other kids have their patterns set from previous years, and if he doesn’t call attention to himself, they don’t pay attention to him.
“Are you sure?”
Henry rolls over to face her. “I talked with Katie today. Katie, my friend from pre-school, not Katie the obo player.”
Mom thinks about this for a minute. “She’s three,” she’s says at last.
“Yeah, and I’m not,” Henry replies. “Everyone stays as old as they were when I met them, and I just get older. Why is that?”
Mom stands up, and moves by the window. She fiddles with his curtains.
“Mom?” he asks, after a long while.
She turns around, and says. “Henry, you’re adopted.”
Okay, so everyone doesn’t age because they’re from Storybrooke, and he ages because he isn’t from Storybrooke.
He’s pretty sure that doesn’t actually make sense.
His walks from school take longer and longer. He watches the little kids play: they are exactly as he remembers them being. The older kids all have the same patterns of acne day after day. One of the waitresses at Granny’s has been pregnant for longer than he can remember.
Why has his mother being lying to him? Why is she still lying?
“What do you think your mother is lying to you about, exactly?” Dr. Hopper asks.
This is the third time he’s been asked that question, or one like it. The answer never seems to sink in. “Everything,” he replies.